Thursday, December 20, 2012

HKTrip12: Day 2 in Hong Kong - Part 1

This fourth installment covers only half of day 2, which will be split into "day" and "night" parts. Here we will be covering the daytime sights of Tsim Sha Tsui - namely Harbour City, Victoria Harbour, Arts Centre - and in other neighbouring districts.

Early Morning Wanderings
Stepping outside the hotel that morning, there was a strange atmosphere outside. Despite being 8-9 in the morning, it was still quite ominously dark outside. The street lights were still on. And all that while sunrise was supposed to have been a few hours earlier!

View down Nathan Road that morning - iSquare is front and center, with its multi-level escalators clearly visible.

Misty - the tops of the tall building in the background can hardly be seen. In the foreground, that squat/narrow black and white structure is an entrance to the subway.

The the cold harsh light of day - "The Tree" outside iSquare. Even though it doesn't have any lights during the day, it still looks quite pretty...

Despite what these photos might suggest, the sky was not in fact that bright. Instead, it was a darker gray/brown color. Almost as if it were twilight...

Adding to the weirdness of it all was the fact that many stores in the malls had not even opened yet. For a place of contrasts and vibrant activity, it appears that this is a place of night owls - shops are open till late at night, but don't open for business the next day until nearly midday! Perfect for people like me I guess, once I get over the jetlag ;) Heck, the 5 hour time shift is probably good enough to make spending the evenings working with Blender HQ occur during more reasonable hours.

For the first time in my life, that morning I had Fish Congee + Chinese Donut for breakfast - no coffee or bread! Apparently this sort of breakfast is traditionally quite popular locally. It was quite strange having this for breakfast, when usually it'd be lunch or so back home, though surprisingly, it went down quite well with few ill effects. The fish congee in Hong Kong tends to use a particular type of fish that has a grey-brown fatty layer on the bottom, while having slightly "sandy" texture (as if there are heaps of small bones). This is in contrast with the cod-based versions I'm used to having here. IMO, the cod based versions are nicer, though it has to be said that their beef/pork slices in congee are a whole lot nicer!

Harbour City
Harbour City is one of the big shopping centres around in the area, and is located on Canton Road near the Star Ferry Terminal.

Looking out towards the harbour down the side loading zone...

Every year, Harbour City is well known for creating a Christmas display on the forecourt outside its entrance. This year, there was an Alice in Wonderland theme..

This used a red and white color scheme, and featured large oversized baubles and white reindeer. Although I liked the baubles hanging from the ceiling, I thought the rest of the displays were a bit messy and not as pretty as some of the ones from previous years (based on photos I've seen at least).

Star Ferry Terminal
The Star Ferries provide a scenic cross-harbour service at 10 minute intervals. It's one of my favourite things to do while in Hong Kong, though I didn't this time as the weather was quite nasty (i.e. the seas were looking a bit on the choppy side - which isn't that great as the waves seem to be worse nowadays when the ferries are docked as a result of the land reclamation works which have taken place to narrow the harbour).

Star Ferry parked at the pier. In the distance, the ferry terminal on Hong Kong island can be seen.

 Pigeons roosting. Pigeons not seagulls are the most common form of wild urban birds in this city.

Clock Tower
Iconic clock tower in Tsim Sha Tsui - Former Kowloon-Canton railway station

Large cartoon figure sculpture advertisement for exhibition in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (looming curved building on the left). More on this in a moment.

Park and Architecture
The area between the cultural centre and Victoria Harbour is home to a nice little park, including this nice covered walkway (with viewing deck on top too) which curves around the edge of the harbour:

However, the architecture of the cultural centre itself is quite striking, with bold clear lines, interesting use of light and shade, and whimsical features...
 Visually striking - sheer vertical walls are quite impressive...
Left - Tunnels/walkways with an interesting interplay of light and shade.
Right - Whimsical spiral staircase is quirky touch

Victoria Harbour
It's quite relaxing standing by the sea, watching the ships slowly wobbling past. On this day, the tops of the hills on Hong Kong island were in the clouds, shrouded in a fluffy-looky misty veil.

 Star Ferry on Victoria Harbour
 Small vessel docked in the middle of the harbour - a fisherman perhaps?
Another view of the fishing boat
 Fire/tug boat - This looks a lot like a little toy boat I used to have...

Peak Tower!
In these shots, you can just see the peak tower station (i.e. that half-moon thingy) just peaking out from the clouds. Last time I went up there, they still had a "plug" shaped building up there... In a happy coincidence, the Star Ferry happened to pass by in the right place shortly after I spotted the tower, allowing me to frame up the first shot.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre
The Hong Kong Cultural Centre is a large cavernous building housing several auditoriums, and exhibition spaces for exhibitions by various artists/groups. It is also a popular venue for weddings - one happy couple was celebrating their big day here that morning in fact.

Next time I visit Hong Kong, I should try to find some concert to attend here to check out the auditoriums and their acoustics. In the meantime, I've visited this building twice now (the first time 2 years ago, after getting quite exhausted from all the walking). Each time, there has been an atmosphere of respectful silence inside, with dim lighting, and hardly anyone around (and those that were, talked in hushed tones to avoid disturbing the peace). The only real interruptions to the silence though were the sounds of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (Wow! They have an event like our "Classical Sparks" - orchestra playing outdoors for the general public, followed by a fireworks display) on a video loop promoting upcoming events with some or other touring artist/soloist.

Entrance way - cartoon character cutouts here were advertising the art exhibition in the foyer
Space... oh wonderful space... While the ticketing and entry areas of the foyer have quite a low ceiling, the middle of the building opens up to quite a grand space. Distant lights on the ceiling look like stars in the night sky (I really love these sorts of designs! The Christchurch Town Hall (used) to have such a ceiling, though I'm not sure if it'll see another day under the current political climate. There's nothing quite like having a really high and broad ceiling covered in lots of tiny little lights!). Also, they have some nice little garden settings that seem to be able to be used for seating - perhaps not officially, but they're good enough!

Art exhibition - "Tian Tian Xiang Shang" by Danny Yung (or at least that's what my posthoc Googling suggests the exhibition was). Basically, this exhibition features hundreds of sculptures of the same cartoon character looking and pointing at the sky (apparently each sculpture was created by a different artist). The big white sculpture shown above was on a turntable, and had some annotations projected onto it (IIRC, they were gradually tracing out some clothing or something). 

At the time of my visit, a skeleton TV crew (male presented in suit, camera dude, and assistant/director lady) were also filming there. The cameraman initially spent time carefully framing up shots of various parts of the exhibition, his camera covered in a waterproof vest. Later on, it was clear that the presenter was fronting a report on this, as he was standing in front of the camera (now mounted securely on a tripod, headlamp blasting him in the face) while the other two stood silently on either side.

My favourite "interpretation" - This little guy caught my eye from quite a distance away (while sipping a small Iced Chocolate from the nearby Starbucks), as perhaps the most eye catching and/or well characterised of the designs. Behind this, there's one inspired by Winnie the Pooh (left) and one imitating a traditional piggy bank (right). There were also some which glowed, moved (either inflatable, or with some moving parts - e.g. arm moving like one of those golden "fortune cats"), or resembled some other famous superhero characters (namely that one with a silver helmet, red cape, and glowing yellow bug-eyes). However, not all of these were "family friendly" though (e.g. one had a balloon shaped like a certain body part which would periodically inflate and deflate... erm... yeah... "art").

Nearby Sights
A water feature in the park outside the Culture Centre and Space Museum (the space museum was closed until 1pm that day)
Sogo - This interesting structure merely serves as an above-ground conduit into the underground networks of the "Sogo" shopping arcade (Kowloon edition; There's another one in Tong Lo Wan apparently which is much more extravagant), which happens to lead into the subway and/or provides a way to get across the road... 

Another view of Nathan Road from the Space Museum side. The Peninsula Hotel is on the left, with the Kowloon Hotel behind it, and one of the Sheratons on the right. There's a busy motorway between this particular vantage point and the hotels which can only be crossed by going through the underground tunnels (or by walking further down the road and finding an overbridge).

The Peninsula Hotel. This grand old dame is quite famous, with a long and rich history. The room rates are accordingly up there ;) In the foyer, there's a restaurant/cafe area, which has a long history of serving high tea in the afternoons - diners there are generally all dressed up. As a side note, Mum used to work in a small office on the rear right (relative to this photo) for Singapore Airlines ticketing of this hotel back in the day (this office is now yet another high-end fashion store).

Bauhinia Flower - The iconic native flower of Hong Kong, featured in its flag.

Mong Kok (and surrounding areas)
After this nice walk around the waterfront, it was time to head off to Mong Kok for lunch with Grandpa at the "London Restaurant". However, getting there was far from easy. Despite being able to take the MTR down (it was really just at the far end of Nathan Road), we still had to figure out which of the four exits at the Mong Kong station would take us closest to the restaurant. IIRC, we ended up taking B2 and walking for one or two blocks down the road to get to the restaurant (fortunately the street signs have numbers indicated on them, BUT at the same time, almost none of the shops do the same!).

Signs on Nathan Road in Mong Kok right outside the restaurant (after lunch). There also happens to be a bus stop right outside, but that only heads down to the waterfront.

Some art on a retaining wall, in the style of traditional Chinese paintings somewhere near Mong Kok

A little side street. At the end of the street, you can see a little temple. The black bags seen are parked motorcycles. AFAIK, that red sign is probably the sign of a traditional pawn shop (it looks very similar to the sign of one hanging in a museum I visited in Macau).

A fruit and vegetable shop, with heaps of those iconic red lampshades usually used for meat. Especially impressive here is the number of oranges available... what a mountain!

Hung Hom
That afternoon, I spent some time in a meeting that took place at the Harbour Grand hotel in Hung Hom. This hotel certainly had a lobby that looked the part, a courtyard roundabout, and great views stretching right out to sea (i.e. out the harbour mouth). Despite being a bit further away from anything interesting, this hotel is certainly worth further investigation in future...

Christmas decorations on an intersection nearby, as seen during the taxi ride out. Due to the remote location, taxi rides to and from are perhaps are requisite transport step.

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